The true import of the Ron DeSantis story is not that he is, in my opinion, trying to garner the support of racists. That is despicable, but it is also his risk to take.
Nor is it that the Republican party seems to have become the default party of white racists, as demonstrated by Seth Grossman, John Fitzgerald, Arthur Jones, and many who did not earn individual links only by failing to win their primaries.
Nor is it that racism is suddenly popular in the GOP. I firmly believe it is not. I think there is a very small percentage of the GOP base which is actively racist. It’s much larger than I’d have guessed prior to 2016, but it’s not a majority nor is it, in my view, even a large minority.
I believe the efforts of some politicians to court the white supremacist vote can be explained simply by examining their benefits: they don’t bring much in the way of donation money, but they bring to the table the tireless work ethic of the fanatic. In small election campaigns where call centers and online support can be crucial, White Supremacists become a valuable – if potentially radioactive – political tool.
The “potentially radioactive” part is what’s kept them from being actively used in decades. For a country of people who have been actively seeking to put racism in the past and to unify together in at least that aspect of founding principles, association with divisive hate groups is to be avoided.
The true import of Ron DeSantis is the indication of what’s changed. And, at the risk of sounding like someone who likes to blame everything on Trump, the answer is Trump. But not for the reason most people think.
There is no person alive who can tell me, honestly, that they know Donald J. Trump is not a racist. There are millions who hope he’s not, there are millions who believe he’s not, there are millions who insist he’s not. Throughout his life he has made statements and taken actions which undermine certainty. For every Omarosa as a close friend, there’s a complaint about a judge’s heritage. Nobody knows if Trump is or is not a racist.
Consider Trump’s position, then, for the “defend and foster Trump” (DaFT) media. And then consider their bind.
The Trump-promoting pundits recognize that they now cheer for a figure who will federally fund abortion… so they abandon attacking anyone else who does so, instead shifting their attacks to those who speak favorably of the practice. They realize that they argue on behalf of a big Federal spender… so they abandon attacking others for Federal spending. They have stopped assailing the Democrats as the party that attacks big business as they saw Trump’s desire to target attacks against business enemies.
They do this because the vast majority of their audiences wanted to feel a sense of belonging more than they wanted to promote their stated principles. But people don’t like being lied to and they don’t like feeling that they’re hypocrites; so the narrative has to be carefully shaped and tended, a topiary of selective truth and slanted opinion tended by expert gardeners.
And then we get to Trump’s racism. Or is he not a racist? Faced with a mountain of evidence on both sides of the argument and the knowledge that Trump might Tweet something offensive at any moment, the pundits have done what they have to do: they’ve punted.
There are still reciprocal attacks on the racism from Democrat ranks, but gone are the steadfast and earnest explanations of why racism is fundamentally antithetical to conservatism. It’s too risky to make that explanation in the age of Trump.
It’s because of that vacuum of principle that the actual racists, and those who would use them for political gain, have become emboldened in the age of Trump. The punditry and essayists who were conservatism’s philosophical guards have abandoned their posts for fear of accidentally reprimanding their king.
Not only racists, either. Thieves, pimps, predators and other criminals, once reflexively condemned by Republicans, are now excused or ignored.
We have absolute proof that the overwhelming majority of the Republican party cannot be trusted to defend even the most basic conservative concepts in the age of Trump. That is the true import of Ron DeSantis.